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Girl power in K-pop: Five female singers dominating the industry

By Yim Hyun-su

  • Published : Feb 25, 2019 - 17:52
  • Updated : Feb 25, 2019 - 17:52

These five singers are unapologetically themselves in a heavily controlled industry

As groups dominate headlines, it is easy to assume K-pop is all about group acts. But scratch beneath the surface and you will find that the genre has its fair share of female solo artists in control both as a musician and as a woman.

Take an in-depth look at some of the most successful and promising female powerhouses and their girl-power moments in K-pop.

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HyunA

HyunA, whose real name is Kim Hyun-ah, has come into her own over the years with her charisma and sex appeal in an industry currently dominated by cutesy and innocent-looking idols.

She debuted with Wonder Girls but soon left the group and joined 4Minute in 2009. The following year, she launched a solo career with the debut single “Change.”

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A photo on HyunA’s Instagram shows the singer (left) and her boyfriend E’Dawn (right) with her new record label boss Psy on Jan. 27. (HyunA’s Instagram)
Her single “Bubble Pop!” was a major success, with the video having racked up over 130 million views on YouTube. She also appeared in the video for the international hit “Gangnam Style” by Psy, whose label she is now signed on with.

Fans nicknamed her “the Anaconda of K-pop” after the videos for the singles “Lip & Hip” and “Red,” featuring the singer dancing and twerking in skimpy outfits, generated a great deal of reaction videos.

Despite her sexually bold character, the singer has acknowledged that most of her fans are female.

During a radio interview in 2017, HyunA was asked whether she has female fans, to which she replied, “All I have are female fans.” Kim Yoon-ju of Rooftop Moonlight who appeared on the program also said she had been surprised to see that everyone at one of HyunA’s fan meetings was female except for just two people.

Her alpha female persona reached its peak when she broke with tradition and made public her relationship with fellow singer E’Dawn in August 2018, both of whom were part of the trio Triple H at the time. The move was unprecedented in an industry where a ban on dating is common.

Though she subsequently had to part ways with her former agency Cube Entertainment over the relationship, she earned respect and support among fans for standing up for her love and being honest.

Hyolyn

The former member of Sistar left Starship Entertainment and created her own music label, Bridge, in late 2017. She has since released a number of singles, including “To Do List,” “Dally,” “See Sea” and “Bae,” as a solo artist.

The four-piece girl group had disbanded after a successful seven-year run, and the singer had decided to go solo after contemplating life, according to an interview with fashion magazine High Cut last year.

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Hyolyn uploaded a photo of herself and dancers alongside a crowd at Lotte World after performing in August. (Hyolyn’s Instagram)
“Over the seven years since I debuted, I worked for no one else but Sistar. As a result, I came to have concerns about my life as Hyolyn and Kim Hyo-jung,” she told the magazine, adding that she and other members had decided to remain friends.

Since going solo, she appears to have mastered using the media to her advantage with creative PR stunts, such as surprise street shows last summer. She and her dance team have staged guerrilla gigs in popular spots in and around Seoul, including Gangnam and Hongdae.

Her medley performance at the 2018 KBS Drama Awards had no shortage of controversy over a revealing outfit. One Naver user branded her outfit as “inappropriate” for the occasion, while another respected her decision to wear what she liked on such a high-profile occasion.

On the TV show “Radio Star” in January, she said she often sparks controversy despite giving it her best shot, and she finds it hard to contain herself while onstage.

Sunmi

The 26-year-old former Wonder Girls member is enjoying her heyday as a solo artist after leaving JYP Entertainment in 2017. Her EP “Warning” received critical acclaim and enjoyed commercial success, making her one of the most talked-about female artists in K-pop last year.

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The recent black-and-white photo shows Sunmi with a lace eye mask and pair of matching gloves. (Sunmi’s Instagram)
Despite being in her mid-20s, she has already been in the K-pop scene for nearly 12 years during which she has maintained a fresh and clean public image.

The cutting-edge pop sound in her debut solo single “24 Hours” proved popular in 2014. After leaving JYP, she managed to imitate the success with dance single “Gashina” in 2017, which garnered over 90 million views on YouTube.

Online music magazine IZM described her latest single “Siren” -- the final installment of her single trilogy project that began with “Gashina” -- as a “testament to her position as a distinctive solo artist,” giving it three and a half stars.

The review also said the retro tune conjures up images of disco and synth-pop legends like Donna Summer and Duran Duran.
The single, co-written by the singer after being inspired by the Hollywood film “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” topped multiple streaming platforms in September.

When she was up against Girls’ Generation’s subunit Oh!GG, which released a single in the same week, the former Wonder Girls member held her ground and even edged out the group on some of the main streaming charts, including Bugs, Melon and Mnet.

Hwasa

The singer-rapper with signature heavy eye makeup, whose real name is Ahn Hye-jin, recently emerged as one of the most promising female artists, particularly after she appeared on MBC’s variety show “I Live Alone” last year and made nearly every dish she had on camera go viral.

She debuted in 2014 with four-piece act Mamamoo. The group has released a series of hit singles over the years, including “Egotistic,” “Starry Night” and “Yes I Am.”

Her rapping skills have led to collaborations with a number of artists, many of them hip-hop acts, including Baechigi. In February, she released her first official solo single, “Twit,” which she took part in the making of.

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Hwasa, who recently gained popularity for her passion for food on TV, poses in front of an empty plate in an official photo. (RBW)
Her solo performance at the 2018 Mnet Asian Music Awards in Japan made headlines here for her impressive stage presence and bold red outfit, which many called “charismatic.”

In addition to her music activities, she has gained a reputation as a “foodie” on the small screen. The popularity of several dishes soared after she ate them on TV, including gopchang (beef intestines), gejang (marinated raw crab) and gim-bugak (seaweed chips). She even received plaques of appreciation from organizations for best representing food.

Mamamoo’s leader Solar says the bandmates have known about Hwasa’s appetite since their trainee days.

Chungha

Chungha launched a solo career soon after her stint with I.O.I ended in 2017.

She had been a lead vocalist and main dancer of the temporary group, which consisted of winners from the Mnet survival program “Produce 101.”

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Chungha poses for the camera during a recent photo shoot. (Chungha’s Instagram)
Just months after the act’s disbandment, she showcased herself as an all-round performer with the solo EP “Hands on Me.”
What solidified her solo career, however, were a couple of EPs and singles later in 2019, such as “Gotta Go,” also known as “Already 12 o’ Clock” in Korean.

The song single-handedly propelled her to stardom on the charts, leading to her first No. 1 single on multiple music shows, including SBS’ “Inkigayo,” KBS’ “Music Bank” and Mnet’s “M Countdown.”

It is worth noting that she faced tough competition from the likes of Jennie and Winner but eventually clinched the No. 1 spot, becoming the first member of I.O.I to do so on terrestrial TV networks.

She was already one to watch while starring on “Produce 101.” Viewers saw her start off in the high 30s and finish in fourth place out of 101 contestants, with the help of her dance skills and “girl crush” charm.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)